Why Do So Many Americans Mistrust the Media? [u]

Commentary2.jpg[ Updated Nov. 14, 2016 with more thoughts after reading initial comments.]

There were two themes that struck me forcefully from our recent election: First, was the vast number of people who no longer trust the media. Second, that actual facts are not as important as our belief in what the facts “should” be.

Seeing as the media industry is where we all work, this lack of respect has a direct impact on what we are doing and how it is perceived.

This lack of trust seems to me to reflect the continuous blurring of lines between news to documentaries to docu-dramas to dramas. The boundaries between fact and fiction are almost non-existent.

It also seems that the majority of Americans don’t fact-check what they see and hear. Just the opposite, there seems to be a willing acceptance that what we see and hear is, by default, accurate. The truth is what we believe it to be.

Hollywood has long said that viewers are clearly able to distinguish between the fanciful entertainment it creates and the real-world which viewers inhabit when they are not watching movies. I think that statement has been proved false, if it was ever true, by the amount of time, money and intellectual resources put into television commercials and political ads, all designed to persuade, if not purposefully mislead.

Are movies any less persuasive or compelling than a commercial? Does not the reality within a movie extend into the real world? If not, why did Universal build “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?” Or the incredible growth of cosplay, superheros, and Comic-Con. This leads directly into: “If it is true in a movie, it must be true in the real-world.”

What troubles me the most, I think, is that disrespect for the media translates into disrespect for what we do. We are already pressed with decreased budgets and fewer clients. When you combine that with diminishing concern about craft or veracity, you end up with a media environment that rewards sensationalism and dramatic falsehoods; all designed to attract the largest audience.

“Truth” no longer matters, its all about attracting eyeballs and sparking controversy. And its not “our” fault if people believe the false “truth” we are selling. We’re just doing what our clients tell us to do.

This is not a good place for us. Its a place that rewards low-budgets and bottom-feeder scripts. Worse, it means that whatever we create is not respected. We aren’t changing the conversation, we are reinforcing each other’s worst fears.

This descent into darkness did not occur quickly. We each contributed by decisions that seemed good at the time. Bigger audiences are generally a good thing. But something got lost as we chased larger audiences and bigger buzz. We lost our way and we lost our respect.

Its going to take us a while to get out of here. And, I suspect, it won’t be easy.

UPDATE: Nov. 14, 2016

After reading many of these comments, I realize that I am less interested in specific candidates and more interested in why fact-checking was not valued? As one commenter wrote, the ability of the Internet to invent its own facts is very scary. Why have accuracy and truthfulness fallen into disfavor? What are the ramifications when we can make up facts to suit our world-view?

I will be moderating comments going forward which focus principally on candidates.

As always, I’m interested in your comments.


30 Responses to Why Do So Many Americans Mistrust the Media? [u]

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  1. Tom Thornton says:

    It has been widely reported that only 15% of Americans get their news from print media , the majority of the remainder get News from social media for which there is no ethics or verification of source or fact. Hence the truth is that few people question or verify what they here or believe and repeat . Even the BBC is no longer regarded as” The Ministry of Truth” . In a democratic society the electorate generally deserve what they get !

  2. Jeff Cipin says:

    Social media “news” reporting scares the sh*t out of me. Just two days after the election I saw an article online with a headline that included the phrase “landslide win.” And they weren’t trying to be ironic. Of course the mainstream media occasionally gets something wrong but I think there are sufficient checks and balances in place. On the internet? You can be as inaccurate as you like with no meaningful consequences. Larry, you are getting wiser, but unfortunately, sadder. Next time you’re in Toronto, I’ll buy you a beer. Or two.

  3. Ken Roche says:

    With an overload of ill-informed ‘news’ being posted on the likes of social-media, along with peoples e-news being cluttered with sensationalist so-called ‘news’ – it’s little wonder many skim through the headlines and half read the body copy. Then there’s Mainstream Media where everyone wants to be FIRST with the ‘news’ – championing miss-information being taken as “fact” until proven false. What other than miss-trust can follow?. As for the Movie making machine, how much ‘reality’ do we really need in an artificial interpretation of ‘reality’?. With the fact we are now being bred on overload amounts – the immature are getting to the point they can’t always discriminate. Good to see an article such as this coming from a ‘communicator’.

  4. Jake Price says:

    As a college student, I have found that the largest issue with the media is not the mistrust, but the lack of information, or only one side of the information. Far too often do my peers tell me about this story they read or heard of on the news, what they don’t realize is that the news site they are getting all their information from is strictly left wing. This means that they are only getting one side of the story. Many times their views of a certain candidate was dictated by the far left views that are spouted to them from their single news source. Now I am not saying left or right wing news networks are bad, my only issue is that my peers only see one side of the story so they end up with a rather distorted view of each candidate. Often only thinking” This one is a monster”, or “This one is rude and stupid!” Thus their voting gets colored and it makes me question if perhaps news networks should not be allowed to make stories about the candidates unless they speak about both equally.

  5. Let me begin by saying I’ve been a professional print journalist (writer, photographer and editor) since 1978 and I have two related academic degrees because I also teach mass media at the college level.

    Historically, no news organization in any media (print, broadcast or now, online) has ever been free of bias. It’s not humanly possible to be 100 percent neutral regardless of any federal regulations, past or present, that may have tried to have the media reach this ideal. It has always been the responsibility of members of a democratic society to inform themselves through a variety of sources and to engage in meaningful conversations with the goal of becoming better informed. To cite a cliche: It takes a village.

    With this said, the mass media has been out of touch with the public since circa 1995 when they refused to acknowledge the influence of the Internet and Web with regard to advertising and information dissemination and storage. Since that time, media organizations have been scrambling to save their bottom line and by addressing their largest budget item — salaries, they’ve had to lay off those journos who were brought up in an era of aiming for balanced news coverage that is as close to being 100 percent accurate as possible. New journalists do not think this way especially when they are trying to “feed all the beasts” as we say in the business — meaning providing content for the print, broadcast and online products.

    Bottom line, people should trust in themselves, choose a variety of news outlets to experiences, regularly engage in logical and rigorous discourse and do their best to make sure their “glasses” are not tinted any particular color. Facts are not the same as truth. They never have been.

  6. David says:

    The fundamental error is that people often commit the ultimate sin by deceiving ourselves to think that we are gods and try to create the world in our own image.

    Many in the media and those who direct it have fallen into this delusion of thinking that they can create and impose their “truth” upon us with their decrees and dictates of mass proliferation. Their arrogance assumes we the audience are blank slates upon which they can write upon our minds and hearts to shape them as if they were soft clay into the image and likeness of their own corruption.

    Truth is found in the rare beauty of a pure heart! Thus, I doubt the media will ever be a source of real truth.

  7. Billy Walker says:

    This response may be rude but I do believe it is truthful.

    You have stuff people print on the internet which no one has vetted including the poster. If you’re going to post so-called news and/or information on the ‘net you become a defacto publisher. You have a responsibility to vet your story and verify the accuracy of the story prior to publishing it on your own.

    Just yesterday I read a story on PetaPixel I think it was about an individual who was convinced he had found a parking location for a number of buses that had supposedly bused in anti-Trump protesters. Of course, he never bothered to verify the accuracy of his thoughts until after the fact. Turned out he was wrong.

    There’s a level of ignorance going on here. You have what amounts to various people, we’ll call them ignorant people, who automatically believe what they read with what appears to be zero foresight and fact checking going on. How someone automatically believes what he/she reads is beyond me but it appears to be going on in incredibly large numbers. We’re speaking of adults here. It’s amazing.

    There is simply no excuse to automatically believe anything you read. There is always more than 1 side to a story. An intelligent individual, should they have an interest in the subject matter, will check out various sources in an attempt to determine the accuracy of any story.

    Judging by the garbage that goes on with the internet I seriously doubt the level of intelligence and/or common sense of much of the world’s population. A fixation on Kim Kardashian just isn’t going to do much for anyone’s life. And, the network news turning into an entertainment presentation of sorts shows the desire for so many to head towards the low end of the gene pool.

  8. Ralph Davis says:

    Very insightful responses. It gives me hope! Here’s my 2 cents:

    The news medias have always fronted the image of respectable truth telling while breaking every 10-15 minutes to utter BS commercials. It is deeply embedded in our subconscious that to catch our dinner we have to be deceitful. Sneak up on it and play it for a fool.

    That being said have we ever produced a video story that was the complete truth?
    The Machiavellian persuasions have blithely engaged this tactic as a truth and I can’t think of a program I’ve produced that the clients didn’t sit there and suggest subtle distortions or opaque details to sell their product or idea.

    The tactic the enlightened members of our society have engaged to tell stories is to be honest about their opinions. To say “I believe this fact but there is reason to doubt” is honest. Without that clarifier the story is suspect.

    We as westerners are so used to commercial stories that we take it for granted that story telling is a throw away sport. Catch the fish anyway you can but don’t expect the lure to be the truth. It is discarded as a subterfuge anyway.

    To change this understanding takes the courage of convictions in the face of economic loss. That’s a delicate path to tread. Can we bet our businesses on the consumer rallying to real truth telling stories? Don’t they want to be fooled anyway?
    Will the better angels of our natures rise to the occasion? Is truth the better diet for us than a diet of deceit?

  9. Fred H Nesbitt JR says:

    Since the ‘citizen’s-united ruling tons of money has fueled this recent 2 year long KK Klown circus…

    The media has always pulled US American’s around by the short hairs and since the repeal of the FCC’s Equal Time Fairness Doctrine 30+ years ago…this nazi HATE propaganda has been spoon fed to most rural American mushrooms, 24/7.

    Now…many o’ US will soon git ta enjoy the amenities of a modern Re-Education Camp…with food, housing & medical care!

    Butt remember…Work Will Set You Free !!!

  10. This is nothing new. There is a persistent strain in the American psyche that deals with the world through conspiracy theories, demonization, and denial. 60 years ago those folks were claiming that President Eisenhower was a conscious Communist agent.

    Today’s basic problem is that Google and Facebook are advertising companies. So are newspapers, but they have a tradition of editorial independence from advertisers. FB & Google don’t, and they really let us down.

    For more perspective, read “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” by Yale historian Richard Hofstedter, available at http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/. The difference now, of course, is that we’ve elected a know-nothing subscriber to many of these conspiracy theories.

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